A local legend and vicar took the plunge to make a Carterton courtyard the centre of music and southern USA food. Helen Holt reports.
There are endless questions you could ask Andy Eldred.
The primary one is how did a vicar come to give up his church posting and start a food truck, complete with a side order of rock band in Carterton?
Eldred, who has become a local legend, wears many different hats.
No matter which hat, he is recognisable wherever he goes, having been a vicar in Greytown, and later Carterton, from 2009 until 2021, and as a food truck owner and musician.
The first impression of Eldred is an overwhelming enthusiasm and a North American accent – one which becomes more pronounced as he talks.
“I can’t deny myself as being from North Carolina.”
The path for this southern stater from North Carolina to Carteton is surprisingly straightforward – love intervened.
“I married a Kiwi in the Bombay Hills in the 1990s. She was originally from Kapiti, so we ended up moving that way.
“I joined the Wellington diocese in 2003, and I got a posting in the Greytown parish.
“That’s how I ended up in Wairarapa. Then, later on, I moved to the Carterton Church.”
With a ponytail and Hawaiian-style shirt, Eldred readily admits he is far from the typical-looking clergyman.
However, the Anglican church was not his first introduction to Christianity.
Back in the United States, he attended the Abundant Life Church in Hillsborough but became disillusioned after a time with what he saw as very restrictive teachings.
“We were taught that a Christian was one kind of person. I used to look at people and assume they needed saving, and they weren’t abiding by Christ.
“If we consider a Christian to be one type of person and fit inside a box, that’s not being holy, that’s conformity.”
In 2021, Eldred called time on being a provincial vicar in order to pursue other passions.
“I remember I had just finished doing a funeral, and then as I walked through the cemetery, I looked through the names on the plaques and headstones. I’d done this person’s funeral, I’d done that person’s funeral.
“I was sick of putting people in the ground.
“Christmas  was my final service. It wasn’t always easy being owned by a community for so long.”
If Eldred were not already known as an Anglican priest, he would be known for his music.
He is a member of a number of bands in Wairarapa – Dr Groovenstein and Good as Gold among them. He also teaches band at Carterton schools.
Before coming to New Zealand, he was part of a band that was offered a record deal for winning ‘Battle of the Bands’.
Rising from the ashes of a suspicious fire on Carterton’s High St in October 2021, was Eldred’s food truck dream.
The fire destroyed multiple businesses, including Wairarapa Web Design, Madam Plum Boutique, Midway Barber Shop, and the Carterton Food Market.
Eldred felt for the owners and their loss and wanted to return some life to the empty
courtyard left behind.
“I said to the Patels I wanted to do something with this courtyard.”
Andy’s Food with Love food truck was born, inspired by Eldred’s unique take on a hospitality experience.
“When I make and serve my food, I want it to be with love. I’ve had many food experiences which didn’t have love in them.
“There are restaurants which treat you like a unit, another person to be served and then ushered out. There is no love in that experience.
“I love hospitality, and I told myself if I could do anything, I would set up a place and use my skills as a cook that I couldn’t do as an American.
“I have some instruments at the food truck. If you can play a song, you’ll get a free taco.
“I wanted to give people a food experience and be a source of vitality for the town. Make Carterton a place to go to, not drive through.”
Despite realising his food truck dream, Eldred says he is yet to doff his clerical collar completely.
“I’m still a priest. Saturday morning, I’ll be leading at a funeral, and then I’ll rush back to open the food truck by 1pm.
“Even when I’m standing at my food truck, I’m still a priest. People still come up to me and ask questions about God.”
Eldred said a requirement of owning a start-up business was a ‘glass half-full’ attitude.
“This past year has definitely been hard. I caught covid, and then I got injured. I finally got back on my feet, and then we had a whole lot of bad weather.
“But the big aim is not to be homeless.”